Innovation and collaborative, synchronized program management for new programs
Shikun Enterprise specializes in developing, designing, machining and manufacturing machine parts. Its primary products include 5-axis turning-milling machine tools, CNC vertical/large-scale lathes, CNC Plano millers and CNC horizontal boring machines, which are able to be used to process high-precision machine parts such as three-thread screws, drive shafts, screws, bevel gear shafts, 76 teeth and artificial teeth.
Based in Dashe, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, Shikun Enterprise (Shikun) develops and manufactures machine parts and was the first company in the area to have a computerized numerical control (CNC) machining factory, which is well known for its capability to machine custom parts. It is also a long-term partner of Formosa Heavy Industries Corporation, which outsources large-scale gear machining to Shikun.
For more than 30 years, Shikun has established a strong reputation under the leadership of Zeng Zhenxiong, founder and general manager. In recent years, Zeng has begun the process of handing the business over to his two sons. The new generation sought new operational strategies. After examining the company’s competitiveness, the brothers (with the support of their father) took a step that may have seemed rather bold to industry competitors in 2015.
Shikun replaced all of its computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing percent(CAD/CAM) software with the high-end 5-axis compound machine tool from Mazak (Japan). The father and sons worked together to upgrade the company’s technology from 3-axis machining, which was used throughout the industry, to the expensive 5-axis machining, which few people had dared to try. This decision demonstrated the grand ambition of Zeng and his sons.
Shikun has been taking large-scale gear machining orders from Formosa Heavy Industries Corp for a long time. Though business was stable and even booming, the company realized the capacity of the existing machine equipment was not sufficient to sustain its growth, so it was imperative for them to purchase new machines. But the firm would not advance if it continued purchasing 3-axis machine tools, which would not help them differentiate themselves from their competitors or effectively increase profitability.
On top of that, Shikun also considered several issues that had been hindering business development. Zeng Lvjin, the elder son and head of the machining business, explains, “The reality is that the machining industry has entered the Red Ocean stage (in which there is a defined market, defined competitors and a typical way to run a business. It is analogous to an ocean where the sharks are fighting each other for the same prey) of price-cutting competition, in which the majority of products have a very short lifecycle and, as is often the case, your products will be weeded out faster even though your machining technology is better.”
Therefore, Shikun opted for an aggressive upgrade by leveraging its own advantages, entering the highly professional markets of large workpieces and special-gears machining. That was the main driver behind Shikun’s decision to invest in 5-axis machine tools to effectively increase profitability.
In addition to hardware, the existing computer-aided systems at Shikun also hit bottlenecks. Zeng Lvjin says, “The original CAD/CAM software came from different suppliers and could not be synchronized and integrated, so when we needed to make a large number of design changes, it would often take us a lot of time to reset the programs.”
On the other hand, it was not easy to program using the main 3D methods at that time because there were too many misses and insertions in the tool paths; restmill calculations were poor, and there would be no drawings left to be used for engineering the next part after simulation. Further, the intervention simulation was inaccurate, it was not easy to define coordinates, and the quality of machined surfaces was poor. More importantly, as the original software supplier had no practical postprocessing experience in 5-axis turning and milling, Shikun was concerned they would probably have no one to turn to should they encounter problems.
Fortunately, Shikun found Siemens Digital Industries Software partner CADEX Technology and worked together to come up with an efficient software upgrade solution: Use Solid Edge® software for design and NX™ software for CAM for machining in hopes of addressing use issues by integrating CAD and CAM from the same supplier.
To successfully navigate the learning curve of new software, Shikun postponed the new machine tool’s delivery time in hopes of seamlessly connecting learning the software with the deployment of the machine. They wanted to make sure the 5-axis machine tool, which cost hundreds of millions of yen, could be put to good use. With the help of CADEX Technology, the company soon learned the requirements.
Based on its extensive experiences in 3-axis machining, Shikun devised a systematic plan for the multi-axis course of CAD/CAM. The course included basic CAD, basic CAM, trial milling, follow-up guidance, etc. The preliminary use results were out after two weeks and the new equipment was up and running in only four weeks.
In retrospect, Zeng Lvjin notes, “We were able to complete go-live and run the machine tool on our own just one month after the course. Thanks to CADEX Technology’s well-thought-out course planning, we were able to learn how to use and integrate Solid Edge and NX CAM in a short time. In addition, when we have any practical problems, their technical consultants are there to offer us professional guidance and help us find a solution to the problems.”
Zeng Lvjin thought highly of the design and machining integration solution because, “NX CAM and Solid Edge have built-in integrated operability, enabling quick design changes without wasting time to reset the machining programs. On top of that, the seamless data migration capability in NX CAM enables synchronized data update.”
The Solid Edge interface is easy to learn, and doesn’t need many complicated instructions to create spiral grooves accurately, significantly reducing creation time. Zeng Lvjin cited the design of a 3-thread screw as an example: “Solid Edge with synchronous technology can inherit the legacy archives of SolidWorks software and edit all kinds of external archives for re-use, greatly improving the efficiency of design change.”
Furthermore, Shikun uses NX CAM to generate the complete machining process using comprehensive NC programming capabilities to drive milling, lathes and 5-axis machines. Using the precise digital twin of the machines, fixtures and workpiece, the company can simulate and optimize machining processes. This eliminates errors in production and increases machine uptime, which can drastically reduce cycle time. Shikun estimates the machining time has been reduced by about 70 percent, which means faster delivery rates and lower order production costs, thereby attaining the goal of improving profitability.
Comparing the results before and after adopting the new solution from Siemens, NX CAM has indeed helped Shikun substantially improve its machining quality. For milling and turning, the double precision feature in the software facilitates optimal surface machining, while the synchronized layout of point groups improves surface precision, thus helping Shikun increase its capabilities for machining high-precision, large-size differential gears. Such features take advantage of the technical value of advance tool path methods, enabling Shikun to easily tackle the most sophisticated challenges from customers.
Overall, the 5-axis machining solution has not only helped Shikun more effectively handle the machining precision of traditional machine equipment, but also enabled the company to take on machining challenges that require even better precision. Now the variety of parts the company can machine continues to grow, and it’s no longer a challenge for the company when it comes to a high-precision three-thread screw, drive shaft, screw, bevel gear shaft, 76 teeth, artificial teeth, etc.
Consider the traditional plastic pellets grinder. Traditional approaches are subject to high scrap rates and hot hardness. With NX CAM, Shikun has improved the overall machining path, enhanced the synchronous modeling efficiency, and increased assembling precision by eliminating interference. Coupled with plug-in third party GearTrax™, it can even process special gear designs
“Some customers would even come to our factory, discuss the 3D part models and make changes immediately whenever necessary. Using the integrated CAD/CAM solution from Siemens, these design changes automatically propagate to all the assembly components and machining processes,” says Zeng Lvjin, who believes that both Shikun and its customers have greatly improved their quality.
This change has enabled Shikun to diversify and grow its customer base, strengthen its technical capabilities, improve service and enhance its professional image. The company is already considering expanding its manufacturing capabilities to meet the increased demand for its services.
For Shikun, the ability to undertake large-size, high-precision gear machining has become a key competitive edge, and is why their products are so hard to reproduce for other players in the industry, such as generator gears for mass rapid transit (MRT). On the other hand, Shikun has also enhanced its ability to develop high-price parts, such as the turning gear for wind turbine blades, which costs millions of yen.
Looking back on the bold decision to invest heavily in CAD/CAM upgrade, Zeng Lvjin concludes, “With CAD/CAM integration and with the help of all those talented engineers from CADEX Technology, we have substantially enhanced our capability, further increased our competitive differentiation, and accomplished the goal of increasing productivity and profitability. Looking forward, we’ll be focused on reducer gears and increasing the percentage of independently developed parts.”